Campus Centers Put Fine Point on Writing Skills

Many college students enter college or university thinking they are ready for the academic challenges ahead.

But many would be wrong, experts say.

Some students feel that gaining admission suggests they are ready for college or university, says Fuji Lozada, director of the John Crosland Jr. Center for Teaching and Learning at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. He says the truth is, though, almost every student needs help adjusting to a new academic environment.

The Crosland Center at Davidson is similar to support centers at many schools that are designed to help students achieve. The center trains peer counselors or students to assist other students. By helping others in areas where they might have experience, students strengthen their own understanding of their field of study, Lozada says.

“When students first come to college, they still are in this mode of ‘I’m here to learn by myself,’ ” he says. “But academics is really a team sport.”

Writing is one area where students often struggle. Most American high schools teach students shorter forms of writing, such as a five-paragraph essay form. College professors expect students to be able to write about subjects at much greater length and depth. They expect students to present complex arguments supported by lots of research. Students talented in other disciplines but not college-level writing might find themselves falling behind, says Lozada.

International students may find it difficult to write at the level expected by American professors, even if their general English skills are strong. That is because U.S. schools have strict rules about using outside research. And professors want students to apply critical analysis while examining all research.

Lozada points out that colleges and universities do not want their students to fail. Some students may be unaware their school has support programs and offices like the Crosland Center at Davidson, which are there to help. Others are afraid to admit they need help.

“When we check with students as to why they didn’t come in for tutoring, they assume that nobody else is getting help,” Lozada says. “And so, actually, once they see … that many students are coming … meeting with other students for peer-tutoring; that usually gets them in the door.”

Struggling students should recognize they are having difficulty, he says. They should ask professors for advice on the areas in which they need to improve and then seek out their college’s academic support services.

Lozada adds that one visit to such a center will not immediately solve the problem: Improving writing skills takes time. The same can be said about mathematics, computer science or any other subject.

While about 40% of Davidson students who seek academic support are first-year students, about 13% are students in the final year of their programs, still asking for help with high-level classwork and major projects.

“Even … when I write a piece, I ask a peer or friend to read it and then they critique it,” Lozada said. “That’s the kind of academic experience we want to encourage.”

This story originated in VOA’s Learning English.


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